More than 70 percent of young gay and bisexual men in Nassau County have a clear understanding of HIV prevention and transmission, yet a substantial number engage in high-risk behaviors such as having multiple sex partners, not knowing their partner’s HIV status, and not getting tested themselves, according to a new study from Hofstra University and local LGBTQ advocacy organization Pride for Youth.
“With World AIDS Day approaching on December 1, it’s clear that though we’ve come far in our fight against this illness in the last 30-plus years, there is still much to be done to reduce stigma and discrimination, raise awareness, and educate at-risk individuals about how to better protect themselves,” said researcher Anthony Santella, DrPH, assistant professor of health professions in the School of Health Professions and Human Services at Hofstra University. “More than 6,200 people live with HIV on Long Island, second only to New York City in the state, and gay and bisexual men represent the largest percentage of all new HIV and AIDS diagnoses.”
Hofstra will host a Dec. 4 symposium where Dr. Santella will share the full results from the study, which surveyed 215 gay and bisexual men ages 18-30 as part of Project SYNC (Sex among Youth in Nassau County), an academic-community research collaboration between Hofstra’s Master of Public Health Program and Pride for Youth, a program of the Long Island Crisis Center that advocates and provides services for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) youth.
It is the first study to look at the sexual behaviors, relationship trends, HIV testing practices, and use of medical interventions in young men who have sex with men on Long Island.
Survey findings include:
- 36 percent did not tell their health provider about their sexual orientation.
- 33 percent did not ask the HIV status of the last person with whom they had sex.
- Most men reported having sex with up to three partners in the last year.
- 29 percent hadn’t been tested or were tested once for HIV in the last two years (CDC guidelines recommend gay and bisexual men be tested every three to six months).
The Hofstra conference, “Ending the AIDS Epidemic by 2020,” on Friday, Dec. 4 (Student Center Multipurpose Room, North Campus, 9 AM- 12 PM), will also examine new strategies to address the risk factors and barriers that keep young at-risk men from fully protecting themselves against HIV. Karen Hagos, MPH, senior health program coordinator for the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute, will deliver the keynote.
“For the past 10 years HIV infection rates for almost all populations including women, children, and IV drug users have shown significant drops nationally, with the only reported rise in infection rates being young gay and bisexual men, particularly young men of color,” said Pete Carney, director of Pride for Youth, who will address intervention strategies at the symposium. “The findings of Project SYNC give us a unique look into the sex lives and beliefs around sexual health among this ever growing population on Long Island. This new insight can be used to inform HIV prevention interventions and help both Long Island and New York state reach the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2020.”
The 2020 deadline reflects a plan released this year by Governor Andrew Cuomo to reduce the number of new HIV infections through a three-pronged approach of identifying people with HIV and linking them to care and treatment, helping them maintaining regular contact with health providers to achieve viral suppression, and making access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (better known as PrEP, an FDA-approved medication to prevent transmission of HIV) easy and affordable.
Representatives from the Nassau County Department of Health, local health and hospital systems, community-based organizations such as Planned Parenthood of Nassau County and Long Island Association of AIDS Care, academic institutions, health care and social service providers, advocates, and young adults including those living with HIV are expected to attend the symposium.
The event is free and open to the public, but requires advance registration. The research was supported by a grant from the Office of the Provost, with additional support for the symposium from the Master of Public Health program and the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.